Jane Prentice awoke with a start in the cramped, airless cabin that had been her world for forty-six days and nights. Always there was the endless motion, the creaking and rocking of the sailing ship surrounded only by ocean and horizon. A lantern, now dark, swung gently on a beam overhead, as Jane's elderly companion snored softly in the opposite bunk.
Suddenly from the crowded deck above, shouts rang out in the gray, cheerless dawn. Sailors starting their morning chores called to one another across the decks. According to the ship's rules, that meant Jane could go up, too. Shivering with a mixture of cold and excitement, she quickly dressed and ran up on deck to greet the new day. Maybe, Jane thought-as she had every morning for the last week-just maybe, this will be the day.
Her stout, gray-haired companion found Jane leaning over the railing on the bow, looking straight into the spray-filled wind. She was straining to see a sliver of land through the mist.
"Jane! Gracious, child, you'll catch your death-"
"Mrs. Morley, look!" Jane was too excited for a scolding. "Do you see? It's the Sea Islands, the lookout told me. Charlestown's* only three more hours' sail. That's South Carolina you're seeing-we're finally here!"
Squinting into the distance, Mrs. Morley could barely see a dark line low on the horizon. "Lord above! Can it be?"
"I wonder what it'll be like," Jane murmured.
"A backwoods outpost, I dare say." Her companion sniffed. "Like all the American colonies."
"That can't be. Uncle Robert and Cousin Hugh have lived here for years. And Uncle Robert wrote to us that Charlestown's quite as civilized as London, only smaller."
"Civilized, indeed! We'll be spending half of every year at Mr. Robert's farm, miles from town and surrounded by wild beasts and savages!"
"It's not a farm, it's a big plantation," Jane corrected her.
"Besides, there's all this talk of quarreling between the Americans and King George, our lawful ruler. It worries me."
But Jane's mind was on her uncle's plantation. "Rosewall!" She breathed the name as if enchanted. "Uncle Robert says it's a beautiful patch of England, transplanted to America. I'm sure it's lovely now, in June."
"A tangled wilderness, I'll warrant." Mrs. Morley was not to be influenced. She pulled her long overcoat tight against the chill, looking quite miserable.
Jane scowled. "If you already hate it, why did you come?"
"You know very well why," Mrs. Morley replied indignantly. "Because I've been your companion since your dear mother died so long ago, and because I promised your poor father. What a wasted life he led! Earl of Almesbury at thirty-three, and his fortune and estate lost to drink before he was forty! It was his dying wish that I remain with you."
"Well, I could have come alone," Jane replied, absentmindedly pulling at the small gold locket she always wore-and always tugged at when she felt nervous.
"A girl of fourteen sailing off alone to a strange land to live with an uncle she's never met? I think not!"
Jane gave her faithful companion a hug. "I'm glad you came, Mrs. Morley, but I want you to be glad, too. From his letters, Uncle Robert sounds wonderful, and I'm dying to meet Aunt Clarissa. He says she's very beautiful, and from a good Charlestown family. Her brother's a rich merchant and belongs to the South Carolina Assembly, or whatever it's called. And Cousin Hugh is-"
"A cabinetmaker!" Mrs. Morley scoffed at the mention of Robert's cousin Hugh Prentice. "Imagine! No more than a lowly woodworker, and him with all that schooling. All the Prentice boys had a fine education, you know. Their grandfather, Edward, the first Earl, saw to that. He'd turn over in his grave if he knew that after Hugh came to America, he tossed aside his books for a hammer and chisel!"
"I don't see why. Surely, woodworking's an honest occupation."
But Mrs. Morley had already turned to go back belowdecks. "I tell you this, my girl," she called over her shoulder, "we may be a long way from home, but I intend to remain English through and through till the day I die. These colonies can't change that. And stop pulling on that chain, dear. You'll break it for certain. You know I wasn't even supposed to let you have that locket until you turned eighteen."
"I know, and I keep telling you, I won't break it." Engraved with her parents' initials-EP to RP-Jane's beloved gold locket contained her only memento of her mother, the Countess Rachel, who had died when Jane was just three years old. Curled inside the heart-shaped locket was a wisp of chestnut brown hair. The locket, and a slim volume of poems that had belonged to her father, were the two treasures she had brought with her to America.
"And I know how you feel about England, Mrs. Morley. I feel the same way. I'm sure all our friends and kinsmen in America do, too. But you'll see-we'll have an exciting new life here, and I'm..."
Jane turned her gaze again to the mysterious horizon shrouded in morning mist.
I'm afraid, she thought.
Copyright © 2002 by William Lavender
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